POLITICAL parties and students organisations on Wednesday (28/08/2013) called for further intervention at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape‚ which has closed indefinitely amid labour and student unrest.
Students at the institution’s four campuses were given until midday on Wednesday to vacate the premises.
This would‚ however‚ affect only 3‚000 students‚ as most of the 21‚000-strong student body had already gone home‚ university spokeswoman Angela Church said.
Despite the deadline‚ the institution would still seek to accommodate students who had difficulties‚ while it had already arranged alternative accommodation for international students‚ she said.
The closure follows a five-week-long strike by staff demanding higher wages that has all but ended teaching and learning. It also began leading to disruptive student protests.
Ms Church said the indefinite closure was due to the threat of violence presented by protesting students. Students had been "patient for four weeks”‚ but this patience had run out and the university was concerned for their safety.
In 2012‚ a protest by 1‚000 students demanding passes even though they had failed their tests resulted in the death of a student at the university’s Nelson Mandela Drive campus in Mthatha. The student died when he fell off the roof of a building.
The National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the National Tertiary Education Union have been on strike since July over demands for a salary increase of 8%-10%. The university has offered 4.25% backdated to January‚ maintaining it cannot afford further increases given the need to turn around institutional finances.
The university has spent the past two years under administration‚ after facing bankruptcy in 2011 with a R300m debt. Years of financial difficulties had resulted from the merger of Border Technikon‚ Eastern Cape Technikon and the University of Transkei‚ which led to the university’s creation.
The African National Congress Women’s League on Wednesday added to calls from student organisations for a speedy resolution.
The Pan Africanist Congress in the Eastern Cape called for an intervention by the Department of Higher Education and Training‚ saying the university "has not engaged in its core business of teaching and learning for more than a month now”.
Democratic Alliance higher education spokeswoman Annelie Lotriet said on Wednesday that she had not received a response to a letter sent last week to the portfolio committee for higher education and training asking that the issue be placed on the agenda for discussion in Parliament.
Ms Lotriet said she would now request immediate intervention from the Department of Higher Education and Training.
Ms Church said on Wednesday that the institution had approached staff organisations with an offer of further mediation and arbitration‚ but further increases were simply not in this year’s budget.
The university achieved a break-even budget in 2013 but staff costs exceeded 70%‚ compared with the national norm for higher education institutions of 58%-62%.
It has also said it will allow an independent financial analysis of its finances to find further money in the budget for staff increases. © BDlive 2013 with Sapa